When Cassidy Feldsien competed in gymnastics for Washington Twp. last season, Raelynn Tannehill got to thinking.
"I thought, if she could do it from Washington Township, my school would allow me to do it, too," she said.
A difficult class load -- with three college-level classes -- kept Tannehill from taking the leap from club to high school as a junior. But the South Central senior made the jump this season, becoming her school's first gymnast since the late 1980s.
"It's my last year. I wanted to try it out to see if I like it," Tannehill said. "I love it."
Tannehill is coached by her mom, Kim, with whom she began at Horizon Gymnastics in Valparaiso at age 4. After a decade there, she spent two years at Lakeshore in Chesterton. Then in order to advance her skills, she moved to Platinum in Michigan City, where Kim is the Optional level coach.
"She had done USAG all her career, but you don't really get recognized," Kim said. "She mentioned that she wanted to try high school and I said, 'absolutely.' I'm really proud of her. She's really stepping up."
Raelynn practices at Platinum, a decent hike from home. South Central Athletic Director Chad Haschel was able to arrange for her to compete in several meets, most of them at Lowell. She also took part in the recent Chesterton Invitational, where she placed fifth all-around despite two falls.
"I'm used to being by myself in a way," said Raelynn, a Level 9 in club. "It doesn't bother me not having a team with me. Since I'm with the Lowell team a lot, they've become like my team."
It's not like Raelynn is a stranger when she walks into a building. She is friends with many of the Valpo and Chesterton gymnasts, dating back to her club days.
"My old Horizon team is the Valpo team and my old Lakeshore team is the Chesterton team," Raelynn said. "I know Michigan City, too, from Platinum. Whenever I go to meets, all the gymnasts have cheered me on. They've been very supportive. It's nice to have that. In USAG, you just worry about what you're doing. High school is a lot more about the team."
Traveling with her mom has made the experience all the more enjoyable. Before the season, the two perused the Internet to find a leotard to match South Central's school colors of red, navy blue and white.
"It's kind of been me and my mom for a long time," Raelynn said. "She's been there whenever I've needed her. We talk about it outside of the gym, what I need to work on. It's one of those things we share together. It's really special between us."
At 5-foot-2, Raelynn's best events are uneven bars and balance beam, her 9.45 in the latter ranking 12th in the state. Years in the sport have exacted a physical toll on her ankles, though she still aims to go out with a bang.
"I want to make it downstate in everything," she said. "That's my number 1 goal."